Friday, February 3, 2012
Interview with Jonathan LaCour, Playzon
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
How do you come up with a compelling, mobile videogame title? Jonathan LaCour, founder of Playzon, decided that he'd tap into the collective genius of students looking to get into the videogame industry, and is taking the top student-developed gaming titles from one videogame school and turning them into mobile games for the iPhone, Android, and Facebook. LaCour's advisors include Sean Rad of Ad.ly and Clark Landry of GraphEffect. We thought it would be interesting to hear the story behind Jonathan's startup efforts and where he hopes his mobile gaming startup will go.
What is Playzon?
Jonathan LaCour: Playzon is a social video game developer. When we started the company, we wanted to make it the next generation, social video game developer. We had been looking at the landscape of the mobile videogame market, and Epic games launched Infinity Blade 2, which was the best looking game we'd ever seen, let alone the best game for a small mobile device like the iPhone. At that point, we decided games like that should be the standard. If you look at games like Farmville, and really any of the other really popular games on the market, they really aren't all that technologically innovative. They aren't games that look really astounding. Now that we have the technology for mobile phones and tablets, to put out a game like Infinity Blade, that's what we are going to do.
What is the story behind the company?
Jonathan LaCour: I had just graduated from Loyola Law School, and moved to Palo Alto to work for a pretty high profile startup. It was a videogame startup, but I had a bit of a creative difference with the CEO. So, I moved back down here to Irvine, and started building my own team. Right now, we have developers in Belgium, Texas, New York, San Diego, Florida, and in the Bahamas. We really have gone to great lengths to try to compile a team which would be the best we could put together. We're scattered everywhere, and are telecommuting, having conferences on Skype, and really working together well.
How did you end up going from law school to the startup world--that seems like an unusual move?
Jonathan LaCour: I studied finance in law school, and did lots of structured finance and investments. I thought I would be an investment banker, and I decided I was probably going to move to San Francisco to enter private equity, venture capital, or a startup. The natural progression from venture capital is into startups. It happens that I actually went to high school with Mark Davis of Kohort. He had been a venture partner at High Peaks Venture Partners, and he left the venture community to start Kohort, raising $3M in a seed round. I was able to talk to him for a little while, and between that and the market being a bit stagnant at that point, and my specific talents in sales and law, plus family members who encouraged me to look at a startup, I decided to start Playzon.
There are lots of mobile game startups out there, what's most distinctive about what you are doing?
Jonathan LaCour: What's different for Playzon, from other mobile developers, is we're focused on the user experience, and making it as close to the console or PC experience as possible. We're looking to blur the line. It's kind of hard to describe if you're not looking at the game, but if you look at something like Igneous or Nitronic Rush, they are not your everyday run of the mill video games. They're not Bejeweled, they're not Farmville, they're not Zooville. They're something that, when you look at a tablet, you've never seen before.
Can you tell us about Igenous and Nitronic Rush?
Jonathan LaCour: We're finalizing a deal with DigiPen Institute of Technology, which is lauded as the best videogame development in the nation. It was created by Nintendo executives. We're creating something which will allow us to port their best student games to tablets. Igneous is a student title, which won the Independent Game Festival Student Showcase in 2009, and Nitronic Rush is currently an Independent Game Festival finalist.
What is the idea behind that effort?
Jonathan LaCour: The idea, is there is a huge amount of resources around student video games. If you go back a couple of years, Valve actually hired an entire team from DigiPen, to create the basic concept behind Portal and Portal II. There are some really great student titles out there, especially at DigiPen Tech, so we want to hire on these students, hiring as many from the Igneous team and Nitronic Rush teams, and whatever other titles we end up working with as well.
How far are you from your first title?
Jonathan LaCour: Our first title is Conflict Orion, which is on the Amazon App Store. It's still in beta mode. We haven't posted it to Android or iOS yet, as we're still refining it, as we get more critical experience making the game production ready for tablets. We'll be making it available in two or three weeks on Android, and also for free on iOS.
Finally, how did you connect with Sean and Clark?
Jonathan LaCour: It's funny actually, I went to school with Sean Rad's cousin. I reached out to him on AngelList, and he's a great guy and responded and hopped on a call. He grilled me for 25-30 minutes, told me to do A, B, C, and D, and we'd talk again. The same thing from Clark. Both of them came on board as advisors, and we couldn't do without them, because they're invaluable resources.